Casting announced for Theatre Royal Bath’s Racing Demon

Theatre Royal Bath Productions has announced full casting for David Hare’s Racing Demon, directed by Jonathan Church, and seemingly deliberately designed to challenge my resolve to not see the production which runs from Wednesday 21 June to Saturday 8 July.

As previously announced Olivier Award-winner David Haig will star as Lionel Espy in the multi-award winning play. He will be joined by Sam Alexander, Michelle Bonnard, Anthony Calf, William Chubb, Paapa Essiedu, Ian Gelder, Andrew Fraser, Rebecca Night, Amanda Root and Ashley Russell.

Four clergymen seek to make sense of their mission in inner-city London whilst facing their own personal crises. There’s Lionel Espy, a cleric whose faith is wavering as his parishioners dwindle; tabloid-hounded gay vicar Harry Henderson; ‘Streaky’ Bacon, a genial reverend with a taste for tequila, and a charismatic young curate, Tony Ferris whose arrival is set to fan the flames, whilst his sexual relationship with his lover turns to ash. The day of judgement is at hand for all. Continue reading “Casting announced for Theatre Royal Bath’s Racing Demon”

DVD Review: 45 Years

“You really believe you haven’t been enough for me?
No. I think I was enough for you, I’m just not sure you do.”

Andrew Haigh’s last cinematic work Weekend is easily labelled a gay film, but truly at its heart is an aching love story in its infancy. And the same is true of 45 Years at the other end of the spectrum – a movie about old people but more than that, what happens to love in the course of a long relationship – in this case, a marriage of 45 years between Kate and Geoff Mercer. 

Adapted by Haigh from the short story In Another Country by David Constantine, the Mercers reside in placid retirement in the Norfolk they’ve always lived and worked in, plotting a big celebration for their 45th wedding anniversary. Their preparations are disrupted though when a letter arrives from Switzerland, notifying Geoff of the discovery of the body of Katya, his ex-girlfriend who fell into an Alpine crevasse 50 years ago.  Continue reading “DVD Review: 45 Years”

DVD Review: Wolf Hall

“By the thrice-beshitten shroud of Lazarus”
 

Peter Straughan’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies into a six-part TV serial has no right to be this good but somehow, it manages the extraordinary feat of being genuinely excellent. I didn’t watch it at the time and so caught up with its complexities and nuances over a binge-watch at Christmas. And though I’m no real fan of his acting on stage, there’s no doubting the titanic performance of Mark Rylance as the almighty Thomas Cromwell.

Mantel charts the rise of this lowly-born blacksmith’s boy through service as lawyer to Cardinal Wolsey (a brilliant Jonathan Pryce) to the heights of the Tudor court as Henry VII’s (Damian Lewis on fine form) chief fixer, predominantly in the matter of securing the dissolution of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon to enable him to wed Anne Boleyn. Rylance really is very good, subtler than he is onstage as he negotiates the world of ‘gentlemen’ – in which he is constantly underestimated – from the sidelines, wielding increasing amounts of power, though with it fewer and fewer scruples. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wolf Hall”

Review: Love’s Labour’s Won (Much Ado About Nothing), Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“I did not think I should live till I were married”

In a brief programme note, Gregory Doran declares he’s “sticking his neck out” to suggest that Much Ado About Nothing may also have been known as Love’s Labour’s Won during Shakespeare’s lifetime and thus makes a novel yet inspired partnership with Love’s Labour’s Lost in an RSC double bill. Whether true or not is by and by in the end (though Shakespearean scholars will doubtless disagree) as Christopher Luscombe’s cross-cast productions combine to great effect as well as standing proud in their own right in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Where Love’s Labour’s Lost was set just before the outbreak of the Great War, Love’s Labour’s Won picks up English society as peace has finally been achieved and the Christmas of 1918 might at last be a merry one and from the outset, it feels like a more fitting interpretation. Beatrice’s independence of mind having been nurtured by the freedom of being able to work; Don John arriving as a soul-weary, battle-scarred PTSD sufferer; the rush of Claudio, Benedick, even Pedro to thoughts of marriage an emotional response to an unimaginably traumatic conflict – there’s a pleasing fit to it all. Continue reading “Review: Love’s Labour’s Won (Much Ado About Nothing), Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo. You that way: we this way”

Always a fan of a project, the RSC have paired up Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing – which they posit may have been once known as Love’s Labour’s Won – relocated the plays to an England either side of the First World War and let Christopher Luscombe loose at them with a single company, led by Edward Bennett and Michelle Terry. The RSC have hit on a cracker in uniting this pair, reuniting them in fact as they are RADA chums of old, with the wry looks and crackling tension between Berowne and Rosalind clear from the off.

A truly excellent comic actor, Bennett has the wonderful gift of always seeming on the verge of corpsing and for Berowne, it really works. The last to be co-opted into the King of Navarre’s aesthetic scheme of abstinence for him and three buddies, the first to point fingers when incriminating love poems start to appear once ladies arrive on the scene, Bennett shows us that this is a man well aware of the daftness of the enterprise he’s gotten swept up in. But he’s also an actor of much depth as he conveys the genuine sense of surprise that accompanies his own unexpected tumble head over heels and the crushing heartbreak of the play’s end. Continue reading “Review: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: The Memory of Water / And Then There Were None / A Special Kind of Dark, Radio 4

“You’ve got that slight edge in your voice, like a blunt saw”

Shelagh Stephenson’s The Memory of Water is probably due a high-profile revival, not least for the richness of its female roles but until then, this radio adaptation will more than suffice. Starring Linda Bassett, Lesley Manville and Elizabeth Berrington as three sisters who reconvene after their mother’s death, Stephenson explores different reactions to grief through the prism of shared memories, or rather how the three women have significantly different memories of the same events. There’s an elegiac beauty to the way in which the familial bond asserts and reasserts itself even as long-held secrets are unearthed and emotional truths about the present aired, and the sheer quality of the cast make it a fantastic piece of radio drama. 

A Special Kind of Dark is a much more challenging prospect and whilst it was hard to assess how I really felt about it, given its noir-ish twists and turns and narrative unreliability, it was nice to have such a complex piece of writing to listen to. The story is told by Caspar, who starts an affair with unhappy neighbour Helene but when she is found brutally murdered, is arrested and declared criminally insane. Over the course of a year, he tells psychologist Elodie Testoud of his suspicions of Helene’s husband, the politically ambitious Felix but given we only get Caspar’s version of events, it is never clear when he is telling the truth or lost in a Marlowe-style reverie. It is appealing performed and directed but cumulatively feels as clear as mud, writer Adrain Penketh is so determinedly obtuse that any genuine clues that might exist feel lost. Continue reading “Review: The Memory of Water / And Then There Were None / A Special Kind of Dark, Radio 4”

DVD Review: Criminal Justice Series 1

“We’ve got the best criminal justice system in the world and the jury will get it right”

I do love me a good crime/legal procedural on the television (see North Square, The Jury, Murder One, Damages) but I rarely have the time to watch everything I want to these days and the BBC series Criminal Justice is one of the ones that slipped through the cracks. It has sat on my Lovefilm queue for ages and after a conversation about Ben Whishaw with one of his fans, I decided to finally get round to watching both the series on DVD.

Predictably, I loved it. Written by Peter Moffat (who also penned North Square), it is a five episode trek through one person’s journey through the various stages of the criminal justice system. The 2008 first series starred the aforementioned Whishaw as Ben Coulter, an aspiring footballer who finds himself accused of murder after a drink and drug-fuelled night out with a girl who ends up stabbed to death whilst Ben struggles to remember any of the details of what actually happened. And so from interview rooms in the police station to failed bail appeals and prison cells and then the subsequent court case, Ben’s experience at the hands of the system is thrillingly portrayed.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Criminal Justice Series 1”

Radio Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Radio 3

“My ear is much enamoured of your note”

I’m nothing if not predictable, so despite having been distinctly underwhelmed by the Shakespeare on 3 productions and sworn off the Bard on radio, the replay of this version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Radio 3 was irresistible to me as I just could not resist the spectacular cast assembled.

I’d been warned in advance that Lesley Sharp didn’t sound like herself in this as Titania and it’s true, but the precisely mannered intonation she adopts works really well here and made me long to see her back on stage. Toby Stephens was serviceable as Oberon but I did enjoy Freddie Fox’s impish Puck. And as the troublesome lovers, Joseph Timms and Ferdinand Kingsley, and Emerald O’Hanrahan and Anna Madeley were all nicely characterful. Continue reading “Radio Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Radio 3”

Review: No Naughty Bits, Hampstead

“You’re concerned about the logic.
‘I’m concerned that it looks f**king terrible.’”

No Naughty Bits continues the slightly odd trend at the Hampstead Theatre for new plays that are fictionalised versions of real events. Set in December 1975 after Monty Python’s Flying Circus had been broadcast on US television by ABC but in an edited and censored version that cut out the ‘naughty bits’. It follows the legal struggles of Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam as they fly out to New York to battle the network and defend their show, arguing in court for the freedom of artistic expression, against censorship and demonstrating how far apart senses of humour can be. Steve Thompson’s play is fictional, described as a ‘fantasy version’ of what happened though quite what that means, I am not entirely sure.

Harry Hadden-Paton is the one carrying the weight of the show on his shoulders here as Michael, the driving force behind the defence of their beloved television show even if, or maybe because of, the fact that it is not their best work, John Cleese having left the group and so something of the unique magical mixture gone forever. Hadden-Paton shows us the man before the fame really kicked in, still in disbelief that he’d come as far as he had but not yet successful enough to be able to afford the Christmas presents he wants to get his kids, and he does sterling work throughout, his rather plaintive naïveté in dealing with this new commercial world is most appealing. The main problem though is that too often the writing just isn’t funny enough, especially in the first half. Continue reading “Review: No Naughty Bits, Hampstead”

TV Review: Hamlet, RSC

“What are thou that usurp’st this time of night”
 

The recent RSC production of Hamlet, starring David Tennant, has been filmed and was broadcast on BBC2 on Boxing Day afternoon, a curious piece of scheduling but thanks to the beauty of iPlayer, I was able to watch it as my leisure this evening. Rather than filming the play as it was performed on stage, the original cast deliver this modern-dress and modern-day adaption on location which gives it a much more filmic feel, especially with some of the camera tricks used, such as observing the action from the CCTV cameras.

David Tennant really is rather good here. His Hamlet is both wiry and wired, constantly moving and shifting, mimicking those around him with a quick wit but all-the-while suffused with a precipitous edge. The sense of danger is never far from this often bare-footed prince, but in my limited Hamlet experience, I did miss a little of the brooding intensity that Jude Law brought to the role. Equally strong though was Patrick Stewart’s coldly calculating Claudius. From his opening scene, there is no doubt that he has Hamlet’s cards marked and employs a chilling restraint throughout which was far scarier than any amount of raging. And Oliver Ford Davies’ Polonius was also good value for money, flirting between the doddery old dear of the court and the canny politician keeping himself in favour. Continue reading “TV Review: Hamlet, RSC”